The Tampa Bay Lightning went into Game 3 of their series against the Washington Capitals already down 2-0 - losses both suffered at their home arena - and facing a rising din of criticism from the fan base and the media.
The Capitals lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Thursday in Washington. And they found one in their headline players. We didn't win the first two rounds by playing that way.
Carrying all of that into a Game 3 against a desperate team doesn't guarantee anything. Coincidentally, Lars Eller, who had been thriving in Backstrom's usual spot as second-line center, had a rough evening and went to the penalty box three times.
Moreover, with the power-play goal - the 10th of his postseason career - Stamkos passed Martin St. Louis to become Tampa Bay's all-time leading playoff power-play scorer, at 25 points, per Bryan Burns. Before that, Steven Stamkos opened scoring for the Lightning late in the first period after Braden Holtby was called for tripping.
The Capitals scored twice late in the second period to take a 4-2 lead, including a power-play goal by Kuznetsov with three seconds left, and cruised home.
There's an argument that they could have given him the night off on Tuesday to promote further healing with the team holding a healthy 2-0 lead series lead. "[Kucherov] and [my] shots are those ones where it just comes off the stick and you know it feels really good. Maybe they play a little different".
The Capitals certainly aren't panicking at 2-1, but they need to be wary of their own ugly history when winning the first two games on the road (they're 0-2 in a series where they do that). But the key to the Game 3 victory was Tampa Bay's refusal to squander that effort from their stars, both offensively and defensively.
Nicklas Backstrom was expected to miss his fourth straight game Tuesday, and it's a testament to how well his teammates have played in his absence that coach Barry Trotz is in absolutely no hurry to rush him back. "Everybody is going to take care of themselves and get ready for a game".
The Bolts get a power play.
Stamkos's only shot on goal for the night was a goal and that's essentially because he fired it as hard as he possibly could.
But the Capitals did not get away with that cleanly, because Michal Kempny committed a cross-check 16 seconds later and forced them into defending a 4-on-3 rather than mounting a comeback.